Position battles are always one of the main focuses during training camp and no position garners more attention and scrutiny than quarterback. While the majority of NFL teams are set when it comes to their starter under center, there are several teams that are searching for an answer as training camps get underway.
As it stands right now, the starting jobs in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami appear to be completely wide open. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are unsettled to different degrees and when it comes to the Jets, let’s just say it’s a made-for-TV storyline that everyone will be watching.
Duel in the Desert
A year ago, Arizona thought that it had found their long-term answer when the team acquired Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia. Not only did the Cardinals send cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July 29, they then signed him to a five-year contract worth more than $62 million.
So far, the returns have been nothing short of disastrous, as Kolb went 3-6 as the Cardinals’ starter last season, completing less than 58 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards and accounting for fewer touchdowns (nine, all passing) than turnovers (11 total). Kolb also had to deal with a foot injury and a concussion that cost him the final month of the season. To make matters worse, backup John Skelton had better numbers (1,913 yards passing, 14 TD, 11 INT) in fewer starts and led the Cardinals to a winning record (5-2) in those games.
The Cadinals’ training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., got going on Tuesday, so now is the time for Kolb to show head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the rest of the coaching staff, the front office and his teammates that he’s the guy to lead them back to the playoffs, otherwise Skelton may get an extended look and a legitimate shot at the starting job. Sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley out of San Diego State also bears watching.
Prediction: The Cardinals have too much invested in Kolb to not give him another chance. However, I think he will under a short leash and they will turn to Shelton should he struggle once again.
Does Gabbert Get Another Chance in Jacksonville?
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert did little, if anything at all, in his rookie season to show that he has what it takes to be a capable starting quarterback in the NFL. It also doesn’t help that the Jaguars have a new head coach, Mike Mularkey. On the other hand, the regime change presents Gabbert a chance to start over with a new coaching staff, one led by Mularkey, who helped develop Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan during his time as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
Whether Gabbert will get the chance to prove his worth come Week 1 remains to be seen, as he will more than likely have to hold off Chad Henne in training camp to remain the Jaguars’ starter. Nathan Enderle and Jordan Palmer are also expected to participate in training camp with the Jaguars.
Prediction: As bad as Gabbert was in 2011, it’s entirely too early to completely give up on him. Jacksonville isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, so I think Mularkey will give Gabbert another season to show if he’s the long-term answer or not.
Who Starts in Miami?
Just like Jacksonville, Miami also has a new head coach as former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes over the Dolphins. The first-year head coach will experience plenty of new things running his first training camp in Davie, Fla., one of those being he won’t see Aaron Rodgers out on the field in a red jersey.
Instead Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will have to decide if their starting quarterback for Week 1 will be Matt Moore, David Garrard or first-round pick Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M. Moore went 6-6 as the ‘Fins’ primary starter last season, putting up respectable numbers (2,497 yards passing, 16 TD, 9 INT) in the process. Garrard spent nine seasons (2002-09) in Jacksonville, five of those as the starter, before sitting out last season with a back injury. He appears to be fully healthy and some reports label him as the early front-runner for the starting job.
Tannehill appears to be the long shot at this point because the team wants to give the No. 8 overall pick as much time as they can to develop. After all, Tannehill is the first quarterback taken by the Dolphins in the first round of the draft since 1983. That year, Miami selected a certain University of Pittsburgh quarterback at No. 27 overall. That quarterback was named Dan Marino and he worked out pretty well. The Dolphins are hoping history will repeat itself with Tannehill, even if it may take some time to see the finished product on the field.
Prediction: Garrard may reportedly have the early lead, but I think Moore will overtake him in the end and be the Dolphins’ Week 1 starter. Moore, who turns 28 in August, showed last season what he’s capable of and he presents more upside than Garrard, who’s 34. I also don’t think Tannehill gets on the field for a single snap this season. He’s the future and they are going to take their time with him.
Browns Could Turn to “Old” Rookie
Cleveland also used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback, taking Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall. Unlike Tannehill, Weeden appears to have a very good shot at starting for the Browns in Week 1, provided he performs better than incumbent starter Colt McCoy in training camp.
Weeden is not your typical NFL rookie, just as he wasn’t a typical college quarterback for the Cowboys. At 28, Weeden became the oldest ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft when the Browns took him. In fact, Weeden is four years older than McCoy, five years older than Cam Newton, last season’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, and nearly two months older than Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.
Whether Weeden follows more the path of McCoy or Newton (minus the rushing numbers) in his first season remains to be seen, but it does look like the Browns are willing to put him out on the field early, perhaps starting in Week 1, to find out.
Prediction: You don’t draft a 28-year-old rookie quarterback and not find out if he can play in the NFL, right? I think Weeden gets the call in Week 1 and it will be up to him if he keeps the job or not.
Three-Way Battle in Seattle
Prior to the draft in April, it looked like Seattle settled its quarterback situation when it signed free agent Matt Flynn in March. The Seahawks signed Flynn, who served as Rodgers’ backup in Green Bay, to a three-year deal worth $26 million with $10 million guaranteed.
One thing Flynn’s new contract doesn’t seem to guarantee, however, is the Seahawks’ starting job as early indications are that head coach Pete Carroll will give Flynn, incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and third-round pick Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin equal snaps with the first-team offense.
Jackson went 7-7 as the Seahawks’ starter in 2011 and has 34 career starts under his belt, compared to a grand total of two for Flynn. Then again Flynn threw for 518 yards and six touchdowns in his lone start last season, and you don’t sign someone to a contract like this to be the backup, do you?
And what about Wilson? Could the highly polished and accomplished college quarterback who slid down everyone’s draft board in April because of his size (5-11) prove everyone wrong by wresting the starting job from the two veterans? Whoever ends up under center come Week 1, it should make for an interesting couple of weeks at Seahawks’ camp in Renton, Wash.
Prediction: Jackson has had his chances as a starting quarterback for two different teams. And while his record (17-17) as a starter for both the Vikings and the Seahawks is respectable, I think there’s a reason the team committed three years and all that money to Flynn. Besides, Seattle’s already gone down this road with another Green Bay backup quarterback once before and that worked out pretty well for the team.
The Future is now in Tennessee?
Tennessee Titans training camp in Nashville also bears watching because it’s possible that Jake Locker, the team’s first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in 2010, could unseat veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job. Hasselbeck put together his best season since 2007 as he nearly led the Titans to the playoffs in his first season not in a Seattle uniform.
However, Locker showed signs of what he’s capable of in the five games he played in last season. In fact, the rookie fared so well that Titans’ head coach Mike Munchak has already declared that there will be an open quarterback competition for the starting job in training camp, which starts up on Friday for the veterans.
Early indications are that Locker will have to clearly out-perform Hasselbeck in order to wrest the Week 1 starting job away from the 13-year veteran. Whether that happens or not, it does look like the 36-year-old Hasselbeck will be turning the reins over sooner rather than later to the 24-year-old Locker.
Prediction: Locker is the future in Tennessee, but I don’t see that starting in Week 1. I think Hasselbeck holds off the rookie to start the season, but wouldn’t be surprised to see Locker take over by the end of October or early November.
The “Battle” Everyone Will Be Watching
Age is certainly not the issue as far as the Jets’ starting quarterback situation goes. Mark Sanchez is a little more than a year older than Tim Tebow, but head coach Rex Ryan has already made it clear that Sanchez is the starter and Tebow is the backup.
Of course that means little to the media throng that will descend upon Jets’ training camp when the two report on Thursday. After all that’s what happens when you play in the media capital of the world and the team shows it faith in its incumbent starter by trading for a guy who attracts more attention than anyone and fared better as a starter last season.
For all the criticism regarding his abilities as a passer, Tebow had a better record (7-4) as a starter than Sanchez (8-8) last season, and that doesn’t include his win over Pittsburgh in the first round of the AFC Playoffs. Sanchez actually had his best season in terms of statistics in 2011, but all that production (3,474 yards passing, 26 TD) didn’t carry the Jets to the playoffs.
And in New York, which also is home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, winning and playing in the postseason is what truly matters. So while Sanchez may be the clear-cut starter, Tebow will see his share of snaps under center too.
The pressure is on Ryan and the Jets to get back to the playoffs this season. Sanchez may be the starter, but if Tebow and the team produce better results when he’s under center, Ryan may have no choice but to make the switch.
So while Sanchez’ status as the Jets’ starting quarterback is clear in July and August, come September his job security will come down to what he does with the football when it’s in his hands.
Prediction: Despite his best efforts, the quarterback situation is persistent distraction throughout the season for Ryan and the rest of the team. Sanchez’ poor play at the start of the season leads to a near 50-50 split on snaps come October. Sanchez requests a trade at season’s end, if not sooner, and the Jets end up drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, meaning we get to revisit this again next season.
— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012
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